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Small Business | Business Make-Over / Southern California
Companies Learning How to Succeed

Computer Consultant Asks: to Grow or Not to Grow?

June 10, 1998|CYNDIA ZWAHLEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Impact Computer Services seems to be the perfect candidate for growth. Sales at the home-based business are on the rise, profits are up, and demand is growing for the one-man operation's services, whether to rescue a crashed hard drive or design an entire system.

According to owner Michael Haschka, there is only one thing standing between the Calabasas company and double, or even triple, current sales: himself.

"I would like to expand but it's just a frightening thought," Haschka said. "If I get a commercial space, I have to pay rent, pay insurance, commercial phone rates, etc. etc.; then there're salaries. It just goes on and on."

The 3 1/2-year-old business has grown without any planning or organized effort on his part, said Haschka, who, even before he started getting paid for his skills, described himself as "the computer geek around the office." Haschka attributes his success--sales hit $188,000 last year and the company has been profitable since Day One, he said--to his passion for the work and the customer service skills and contacts forged during his 12 years as a residential real estate agent.

The next step, though, is unclear, the business owner said.

"I'm pretty much maxed out for a one-man operation," Haschka said. To grow or not to grow? He's not sure he wants to take the risks.

Adding to the pressure is the role the small company plays in Haschka's dream of retiring in 20 years. The business is the most important asset he and his wife, a workplace consultant studying for an MBA, have, according to the financial planner who reviewed the couple's finances for a personal finance make-over in The Times' Business Section Tuesday. The bigger the asset, the better, it would seem.

A word of caution was offered by business consultant Pauline Field, who met separately with Haschka to review his company's readiness for growth.

"The decision should be made because he sees the possibilities of what he could accomplish with the business, rather than out of someone else's experience or because his wife wants him to," Field said. "If it is not something he is and can continue to be excited about, the chances of success are slim."

Getting it on paper

Having said that, she made it clear she believes the addition of some business basics--planning and management skills, mainly--would equip Haschka to take the company to the next stage of growth, if he decided to do so.

"I think what could push him over the edge [decision-wise] is that it's not as hard as he thinks," she said. "If somebody could convince him he's not going to lose everything, and it's going to be OK, and the benefits are going to be there for him, then I think he will go for it."

Haschka would have a clearer picture of his company's chances if he put on paper his assumptions about his customers, the size of his markets and the resources he'd need for pursuing more sales, said Field.

It's standard consultant advice: Write a business plan. For many business owners, though, the consultant might as well advise a hike up Mt. Everest. The goal may be worthy, but the task is daunting, and there are a thousand reasons to delay.

"I have a copy of a business-plan builder [software program] on my desk," said Haschka. "It's been there for about a year."

Field, the owner of FieldWorks, a Los Angeles-based management consultancy, said Haschka also will need to develop his management skills, an acknowledged weak area for the business owner, and take steps to untangle his business operation from his personal life. In the process of making those moves, she predicted he will gain the confidence and skills needed to grow the company.

Field offered a few suggestions to help Haschka get started on a business plan. It helps to realize the time involved--she suggested Haschka devote about five hours a week to planning--is not a cost but an investment with a future payoff. Breaking a plan into parts--the sales forecasts, marketing strategy, competitive research--makes it more manageable. It's OK to tackle the easy parts first, she said. And be realistic about the time it will take, advised Field.

"There are some very tough questions that have to be answered as well as research that has to be done," she said. "Things have to be worked through with [certified public accountants], consultants, attorneys. . . . There is a whole slew of resources that need to be accessed."

*

The much-maligned mission statement should be part of any business plan, she said. A well-reasoned and written statement will make it clear to customers, employees and potential investors the company's purpose and focus. A mission statement can help a business owner and his staff make decisions that will keep the company on course to reach its sales goals.

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